In a way, Mass Effect 3 is an event. While there have been countless gaming trilogies released in recent years, Mass Effect is different in that your save data carried from game to game. Instead of each one starting from scratch, Mass Effect 3 is the result of countless hours of playtime over many years. Even PS3 players who started with Mass Effect 2 have tons of choices invested in the franchise. Fans will find a lot to like in Mass Effect 3, especially when it comes to cameos from favorite characters, but unfortunately, it may not be the ending that everyone had wanted.
Mass Effect 3 picks up not long after the previous game. Commander Shepard has returned to Earth after destroying the Collectors' base. The military has placed her under house arrest due to the alliance with Cerberus, a terrorist organization. Shepard is more interested in warning people about the oncoming Reaper threat, but her warnings go unheeded until the Reapers show up and begin to devastate Earth. Shepard is sent off-planet with a mission: Gather every possible ally to defeat the Reapers and save Earth. Since the Reapers are causing trouble all across the Galaxy, Shepard will have to solve the problems of every existing race if she wants to save her home world.
Since Mass Effect 3 is the end of the trilogy, every major decision and choice made in the previous games and Mass Effect 3 are about things coming to a head. While there's a nice feeling of seeing everything resolve, the game really feels like it's missing a sense of urgency. There are only a handful of choices that really matter, and ultimately, even they are pretty unimportant. The game does a good job of making them feel important at the time, but there's very little resolution if you commit genocide on an entire species. Otherwise, there are a lot of great character moments. The characters have had multiple games to build and develop, and it's great to see their plots come to an end … sort of.
It's very rare for the ending of a game to completely sour the experience, but Mass Effect 3's ending comes very close to souring the entire franchise. It's not something I can describe in detail, but it's hard to imagine any player feeling satisfied with the ending. After spending three games with characters like Garrus and Tali, it is absolutely brutal for a game to end this way. Instead of a natural conclusion, the Mass Effect trilogy ends with a whimper.
While the story is a big part of Mass Effect, one can't forget the gameplay. Not a lot has changed from Mass Effect 2. There were a few small mechanical updates here and there, but by and large, the gameplay is very similar. Shepard can now perform a dodge roll maneuver, and the cover system has been improved and cleaned up, but otherwise, you're going to feel right at home coming from Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3. Character customization options remain similar to those found in Mass Effect 2. Players have the option to pick one of six classes for Commander Shepard, each with distinctive powers. While the exact power layout has changed slightly from Mass Effect 2, most of what you'll encounter here is very familiar. There's almost nothing in the way of new abilities or powers, just older ones that have been revamped or retuned.
Armor customization returns, but it's almost unchanged from Mass Effect 2. Players have a variety of armor pieces to mix and match, and each grants a passive bonus, such as 5% cooldown reduction or 10% weapon damage. You can also buy pre-completed sets of armor that have large bonuses but can't be customized. As in Mass Effect 2, only one of each kind of weapon exists, and you'll find them in levels or buy them in stores. Some guns are stronger, some are faster, some can be charged up to do more damage, and so on. There are a lot more in Mass Effect 3, and that's a welcome boost to customization. You can pay money to modify weapons by upgrading basic stats or using found "weapon mods," which add extra attributes like scopes or larger clips. It's a nice middle ground between Mass Effect's abundance of useless loot and Mass Effect 2's underwhelming items.
Enemy variety is a problem in Mass Effect 3. You'll spend most of your time fighting the Reapers, their Husks and mostly humanoid Cerberus operatives. This leaves the enemy encounters feeling the same. It was actually a welcome relief when the time-worn Geth showed up because at least they provided a different kind of enemy. It certainly makes story sense for there to be a more unified foe than in the previous games, but that doesn't make it any less disappointing. Particularly noteworthy is that the game lacks a final boss. The last combat portion of the game is almost indistinguishable from any other action sequence. There's no tension or excitement, just a pretty basic defense mission. It's particularly disappointing when you realize that there's no resolution to the Harbinger plotline introduced in Mass Effect 2. The big bad villain gets namedropped once and then vanishes from the plot.
Mass Effect has a rather lackluster history with planet exploration. The original game included a number of interchangeable maps around which you had to explore by slowly driving in the Mako truck. The sequel included a half-baked and faster "planet scanning" mechanic, but it wasn't any less boring. The final game in the franchise had one more chance to get it right. Each star system you visit has hidden objects that you can find by "scanning" while flying around in your ship, and if you find something, you investigate it and pick it up. It's very similar to Planet Scanning from Mass Effect 2 but confined to a much smaller area. If you scan in an area that the Reapers have taken, you'll risk attracting attention. The more you scan, the more the Reapers notice, and when the bar fills up, the Reapers send some of their ships after you. If they catch you, you die.
It sounds good, but it's a waste of time. The Reapers that chase you may as well not exist for all the danger they present. The Reapers are too slow to catch you, and there's no reason to worry or panic. It takes something that is tense and exciting and manages to make it boring.
Side-quests are mostly in the form of fetch quests. When Shepard is walking through the Citadel, she occasionally overhears a conversation. A person may be looking for an item. You find the item, bring it to him/her, and you receive a reward and some War Assets. Almost universally, these side-quests involve going to a planet, scanning it, and coming back with the item. That is the very definition of tedious. Thanks to the problems with planet scanning mentioned above, there is no tension. It's a matter of sitting through a few loading screens and slapping the L2 button again and again. Most of the time, it only involves button-mashing, without any combat or dialogue. Somehow, the mineral scanning from Mass Effect 2 has become even more boring. Unfortunately, it's also practically required since you need War Assets to get a good ending. There are good side-quests, many of which involve returning Mass Effect characters, but by and large, you're going to scan planets.
This is where multiplayer comes into play. Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode takes place concurrently with the main story. It's basically a Horde mode, where four players take on swarms of enemies at once. You can play any of the classes from the game, each of which also has four different racial options with a unique skill set. A Human Engineer has Combat Drone and Overload, for example, while a Salarian Engineer has Decoy and Enemy Drain. You can level up, find new equipment, and play a multiplayer version of a Mass Effect mission. The multiplayer is fun; it's not going to define a genre, but it's a lot of fun to use your powers in conjunction with other humans instead of the AI partners. There are a limited number of maps, and the limited enemy variety is more apparent when you're doing nothing but fighting.
This brings us to the most aggravating part of multiplayer: It has a direct impact on your single-player campaign. By default, your Galactic Readiness score is 50%, and it serves as a multiplier for your total Military Strength score in the single-player campaign. Since the multiplier is 0.5, it means that your score is halved by default. You need a pretty high score to get a "good" ending, so you're suddenly in a much harder situation. Instead of doing fun side-quests, you're all but obligated to complete as many of the tedious and boring planet-scanning side-quests as possible. Doing multiplayer missions increases Galactic Readiness by about 5% a pop. Going from a 0.5 multiplier to a 0.7 multiplier is worth more than all the Geth in the galaxy by the time the endgame rolls around. Galactic Readiness also decays over (real-world) time, so if you only have limited time to play, you may find yourself having to grind it back up when you start.
It's a neat idea: playing multiplayer to complement your single-player story. The problem is that the balance is way off. It's inexcusable that your score would be halved simply because you didn't (or couldn't, since multiplayer is an Online Pass pack-in) play multiplayer. It must be more forgivable if the primary way to boost your Readiness in the game was through fun gameplay, but it isn't. It's through lame and uninteresting planet scanning, which forces the player to sit through loading screens and nonevents. It basically throws the player into a no-win situation. They either play multiplayer, like it or not, or are forced to grind War Assets. At least the multiplayer requirements are relatively minimal. I got to 70% from 50% with about 45 minutes of play. The decay feature doesn't help those who don't or can't play online. Since you're coming from a game that assumes that you have two single-player games, the emphasis on multiplayer to get your single-player ending is just inexplicable.
Mass Effect 3 looks OK, but it tries to push its engine to the max, and it really shows. While the game does an admirable job with its visuals, there are sequences where things get pretty bad. Facial expressions look more doll-like than human, and in particular, characters like Miranda or anything but the default Shepard can make comical faces. There's also a ton of noticeable slowdown when things get hectic. This is pretty rare and mostly occurs in action-packed cut scenes, but it's hard to ignore. The voice acting is mostly good, although there are a few times when the character's tones seem off. It's pretty clear that the voice acting was recorded with one approach in mind, so you may find Shepard being flirty or angry with a character for seemingly no reason. For the most part, it looks as good as the last game did, and there are some pretty impressive scenes scattered throughout.
Mass Effect 3 is the end of a trilogy, and unfortunately, it's a mixed bag. Merely seeing the end of countless plotlines is almost worth the cost of the title, and the gameplay remains solid and fun. A few new features do a lot to spoil the mood, and the frustratingly unsatisfying ending casts a shadow over the entire franchise. Mass Effect 3 is not a bad game, but it doesn't feel like Bioware learned much from Mass Effect 2. If you enjoyed the previous game, there's plenty to like here, and the bad parts are easy enough to ignore. However, the problems make Mass Effect 3 a game for fans only. The sure-to-be controversial ending means that even fans may find a lot to complain about, but anyone who enjoyed Mass Effect 2 will find a lot to like in the final game in the trilogy, even despite its flaws.
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